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Crypt Tonight (IC)

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With a little help from Alex, Erin was quickly on her way through the nighttime shadows of Freedom City, leaping from rooftop to rooftop across the downtown, then speeding along surface streets when the neighborhoods got residential. Alex had said he was around here, and there were only so many cemeteries in the neighborhood. It felt so strange to be out here at night in her street clothes, almost as though she were underdressed. She definitely missed the weight of her bat at her side. But there would be no fighting tonight. She'd promised Dr. Marquez and Alex both that she would be able to restrain herself. As soon as she found the zombie, she would talk to it. Him, whatever. Just talk, and then she could go home and be done with this especially obnoxious part of therapy.

As she neared the closest cemetery, she slowed, looking around for signs of motion. It would be really bad, after all this, if the zombie took her by surprise and she did something unfortunate.

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Ashton and Greenvile were fairly new bedroom communities, only two and a half decades old. Which meant they had few cemeteries, and those they had were small. Which was not to say they didn't have their own restless spirits, same as any centuries-old graveyard. Which is what drew the Revoltin' Revenant to the area. Not any specific spirits, none had come to him from here, but rather as part of his slow but steady rounds of all the cemeteries, crypts, graveyards, and other burial places of the city of Freedom.

"Hellllllooo!" he moaned, calling to any spirits in the area. "Do any'a y'all need someone ta-"

Then he saw her, in the distance. The one who'd dismembered him once already, and had threatened to do so again.


Dead Head froze, and swayed slightly in the night breeze.

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Erin walked into the cemetery, staying a good ten yards away from the zombie and standing with her hands clasped behind her back. She wasn't wearing her typical blue and gold uniform tonight, instead wearing a pair of patched jeans and a faded band t-shirt for Madman Finale. In that outfit, she looked like a million other teenage girls, with nothing to mark her as particularly special or psychotic. She shifted from foot to foot and watched the zombie, sorely missing the weight of her bat on her belt.

"I didn't come to fight," she called to the zombie, and probably to remind herself as well. "I just want to talk to you."

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"Talk, hunh?" The zombie slowly lowered its arms, and put its hands on its hips. "So, ya come ta pick my brra-"

It paused, jaw hanging open for a moment before it reached up and pushed it shut.

"Well... you know. So...." the Revoltin' Revenant plopped down between two gravemarkers, sitting cross-legged, "what madeja change yer mind 'bout havin' anythin' t'do with me outside'a knockin' ma head into another zip code?"

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"It's an assignment," Erin admitted, sitting on the edge of a wrought iron bench about fifteen feet from the zombie. Close enough that she didn't have to raise her voice to talk, but far enough to give her a split second in an emergency. "My shrink is trying to condition me back to normal. I've watched every damn zombie movie ever made, most of them a couple times. He says the next step is you. I need to be able to talk with you and learn about you without freaking out." She spread her hands, showing herself to be unarmed, though Dead Head knew as well as anyone how deceptive that was. "So, tell me about yourself."

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"Ah, being regularly exposed to tha traumas in yer life to help ya in gettin' over 'em, so's you can better process an' accept 'em," the zombie replied, nodding. "I've heard'a that before. Seems ta help, basically de-sensitizin' ya to tha trauma."

"Tell ya 'bout meself? Well..." The Revoltin' Revenant stroked his chin thoughtfully, "ya already know a little 'bout me. I was with friends at a New Year's Eve party ten years ago, when the clock struck twelve green lightnin' lashed outta my head and killed everyone, then I got up again. Dunno why, dunno how, an' if'n there's any more like me out there, I ain't met 'em."

"But that's nothin' new ta you, so..." It rocked back and forth slightly, hands on its knees, and took a deep rasping breath. "My name's Burton Lee, but most'a my friends called me Bert. I was born in North Carolina; got a younger brother an' sister, Keith an' Katherine. Far as I know, they, and our parents, are still among tha livin'. I'd wanted ta study medicine in college, become a neurologist, but mah grades were never good enough -- spent way too much time watchin' horror an' sci-fi flicks -- so I went fer a basic biological sciences major instead, thought maybe I could eventually get work as a lab tech or research assistant. I was one semester away from graduatin' when I died."

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As Dead Head spoke, Wander studied the filigree in the arm of the bench, the nearby gravestones, her own worn tennis shoes, anything besides looking at the zombie. She seemed to be listening though, if the visible wince when he mentioned dying was any indication. "What can you do?" she asked him, leaning down to retie her already tied shoe. "What kinds of powers do you have, I mean? If you bite someone, do they become a zombie?"

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"No ma'am!" the Revoltin' Revenant quickly answered. "An' I don't like bitin', anway! Only time in the past, oh, year that I bit someone was durin' tha Grue Invasion, when I got swallowed up by one'a them giant critters. No room ta punch or kick, only way I could strike at it was ta bite. Tasted nasty, too!"

"Now that ain't ta say I cain't make other zombies -- I can -- BUT," he quickly raised raised his hands up defensively, "they're usually the slow, mindless type, more like the way some folks can animate objects like chairs an' furniture. Kinda the same way I can animate parts'a meself what get separated." The zombie casually yanked off its left hand, which scurried around a bit (though never close to Wander). "An' I always ask the previous owners first before animatin' the bodies, an' make sure they get properly re-buried once I no longer need 'em for a job."

"Which brings me ta my other big thing: I can talk to tha dead. See 'em, too. An' they know I can see an' ear 'em, so they flock ta me, askin' fer help. Which I do, ta the best'a mah 'bility."

"How's 'bout you?" The disembodied hand crawled back to Dead Head, and reattached itself, "what tricks you got, aside from hittin' harder'n a freight train an' movin' like greased lighnin'?"

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Erin tensed visibly all over when Dead Head detached his hand and let it scamper around like some horrible headless rodent. Every instinct screamed at her to kill it, till she had to clench her hands around the edge of the bench and squeeze till the metal threatened to give way. It wasn't until the zombie was back together and in one nonmoving place that she could relax at all and listen to what it- he was saying. "That's about it," she told him, her voice sounding tight in her throat. "I beat things up really well. Not much to talk about, but everybody's got to have a niche."

She glanced up once at Dead Head's face, then looked away again. "Why do you stay in Freedom City? There's gotta be a lot of dead people around looking for resolution."

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"Oh, believe you me, there are!," he chuckled, which didn't sound too unnerving. "Spent about a decade goin' all up an' down tha east coast, doin' what I could. Even spent some time down in Louisiana, durin' the clean up'a Hurricane Katrina, helpin' put spirits ta rest an' makin' sure Baron Samedi didn't raise an unholy army."

He rocked a bit more again, "but why here? Well, why're so many superheroes an' supervillains here? There's a whole wide world out there," he flung his arms wide, then slowly drew them back in, "but so many of 'em stay here. Why? I dunno, but fer me, it jes' feels... right, that I should be here. An' there no lack'a spirits 'round this city. Shoot, Lantern Hill alone...." his voice trailed off.

He cocked his head slightly, "you ever tangled with any'a Samedi's folk? Seems you'd be a natural at that."

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"I don't know who that is," Erin admitted. She looked to be simultaneously trying to keep an eye on Dead Head from the corner of her eye and not look at him with most of her eyes. It wasn't an easy posture to maintain. "We've fought all kinds of supervillains and bad guys since I joined Young Freedom, but that doesn't really ring a bell. Is he one of those vampire guys with a cape and hat and stuff who think they're reincarnated royalty?"

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"No, no, he ain't a vampire," he said while waving dismissively, "least, not the blood-drinkin' kind. Guess ya could say he's a spiritual vampire, feedin' on human sufferin' an' death. He's the loa -- that what the Voodoo folks call their gods -- a' death an' the undead, same way Siren's the loa'a tha seas." The zombie shook its head, and his mouth drew tight, "he's a nasty cuss, an' I'd oppose 'im with my last breath -- er, well, y'know what I mean -- even if he didn't seem so danged intent on either enslavin' or destroyin' me. Worse, he prefers workin' through intermediaries, both livin' an' undead, rarely gettin' directly involved, so he's as damnably hard ta catch as any other drug pusher. An' since he's a loa, if'n his host body's ever seriously impaired, he can jes' leap t'another host."

He looked up at Wander, smiling (as best as his frozen face could), and tried looking her in the eye. "If'n I ever get word he's nearby, though, you'd be tha first I'd want fer backup."

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"I'm not allowed to respond to distress calls that might involve the undead," Erin replied, her tone of voice that of a sulky teenager, even if the words were strange. "Not unless I'm already on scene. But if you call Young Freedom, the rest of the team will respond. They're very good, better than Next Gen, maybe better than just about anyone in the city. We've fought plenty of demons before, so an unholy army isn't going to be anything new." She fell silent for a minute, her head turned so she could study the row of graves that stretched into the darkness on either side of them.

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"Oh..." the zombie replied, seemingly saddened at the thought of not fighting Samedi alongside Wander. "Well, I s'pose that makes sense. Mebe after yer therapy progresses..."

Should I tell her Samedi's "unholy army" would be an undead army? Maaaybe not jes' yet....

Dead Head turned to look at the gravemarkers she was looking at, his spine making loud popping noises as he did. "So who all's on Young Freedom? I ain't had much contact with many supers -- our paths rarely cross, less they's investigatin' a murder. An it's kinda hard fer me ta keep up with tha news, on account'a not havin'... well, anythin' but what's on my back. Heh, it's one reason I hope they never cancel newspapers -- gettin' those from tha trash's my main way'a keepin' up ta date on stuff!"

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Erin shuddered at the noise but didn't otherwise move, a fact she considered progress. Everything about the zombie was so wrong and creepy except his voice, which was oddly close to human. If she just didn't look at him, she could almost forget the rest. Except, of course, that he persisted in reminding her. "It's a teen team," she said, talking mostly for a distraction. "There's me and Psyche, a telepath and telekinetic, and there's Phalanx, he's super strong and can fly. Edge is a luck controller, and Hellion has all kinds of fire controlling abilities, and Geckoman has a big green airship. I'm mostly muscle for the team, but we do pretty well for ourselves. Geckoman was at the fight," she added, for all she didn't want to talk much about that night.

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"Ohhh yeah. I think I saw him as my head was soarin' over th'arena after that speedster fella -- Dynamo, I think his name was" he said as he tunred back to face her, "tried jump-startin' me. Didn't realize Hellion was on another team, though. Hunh, guy really gets around. Thought there was some unspoken rule 'bout not bein' on more'n one team at a time...."

The zombie spun around and laid back, arching back slightly to look at Wander (who now appeared to him to be be upside down). "So, whatcha wanna know next? I'm happy ta talk as long as yer willin' ta listen."

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"I don't know," Erin admitted. "I didn't bring a list of questions. Why do you keep doing things that are so gross, or using that creepy voice? Why don't you get some regular clothes, or a costume or something? You could look a lot more like a regular superhero without having to work very hard at it, so what's the attraction in being... like that?" She waved a hand vaguely in his direction, still not looking exactly at him.

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The Revoltin' Revenant let out a rattling sigh, "you livin' folks, always hung up on appearances..."

It remained on its back, looking up at her, "I dress the way I do 'cuz it's all I can find. I'm basically homeless an' destitute, but with less options for clothes than most hobos -- it ain't like I can jes' walk into a shelter an' ask fer some new threads. Can only get what I can from clothin' store dumpsters when they get somethin' they can't send back to tha manufacturer, or stuff not even the folks at Goodwill'd take."

Dead Head began idly tapping his feet together, "As fer my voice, well, it weren't always this gravely thing, though I got some aunts an' uncles what're heavy smokers an' had somethin' similar. Heh heh... Guess it's jes' part of how I am now, same as how mah body always pieces itself back together, but never stops looking like a corpse what's been left in the sun fer a few weeks."

Should I ask about her world? Hrrmmm....

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Erin made a derisive noise at that. "You hang around with the goodiest do-gooders in Freedom City, and you think you can't get any clothes from them if you just asked? Or hell, get a job with somebody? I'm homeless and destitute too, but people practically fall over themselves wanting to help me out, and I'm hardly any more lovable than you are." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "I could get you a uniform from Claremont. They're practically indestructible and come with hoods and face masks for cold weather. Would you wear it?"

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Dead Head let out a long, loud sepulchral laugh. "Girlie, you got any idea who I hang around with? A vampire, a witch, a half-demon -- that'd be yer pal Hellion -- an' a red-skinned hulkin' alien what nearly got all'a us killed. An' even if any'a them had 'normal' clothes, I doubt any'a 'em'd fit me!"

"An' as fer tha help ya get -- ya do realize tha differences 'tween us, right?" He sat up, spinning around so he kept facing her, "That yer a moderately attractive, healthy chick, an' I'm... not? Folks are a lot more willin' ta give you stuff than they would me; most'd sooner run from me than give me tha time'a day. Bet ya got guys lined up ta give you flowers an' junk..."

"Ya may feel like an outcast..." It paused and cocked its head, "okay, well, ya are, technically, but ya can hide it, no one can tell jes' by lookin' atcha that ya don't belong here. I ain't got that luxury. An' while ya may technically be homeless, ya got Claremont -- ya got a roof over yer head, reliable access ta food an' showers an' AC an' all that good stuff." It cocked its head the other way, "Seems ta me ya should focus on what ya got, not what ya lost."

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"Don't you talk to me about what I've lost," she told him, a dangerous edge in her voice. "I haven't forgotten what you did to me to learn about it. And don't feed me that line of crap about how nobody gives you anything because you look like you've been rotting in water. I just offered you something and you started whining because you're not pretty and nobody likes you. Maybe if you put on some real clothes and stopped scaring people for fun, you might get some actual friends. You think you scored a lot of points with Lady Winter by pretending you just fell out of a zombie movie?" She sneered. "Anyway, you want the uniform or not?"

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"Whinin'? The hell?" Dead Head straightened up, but his tone remained as flat as ever. "I ain't complainin', I'm pointin' out a fundamental inequality in human society. If Lady Liberty or Siren pointed out that women tend ta get paid less than men, wouldja consider that whinin'? If Johnny Rocket said homosexuals get treated unfairly, wouldja call that whinin'?"

Keep the tone even, she's freaked out enough as-is.

"An why're you so hung up on the way I look? Ya think dressin' me up in one'a yer uniforms -- which, fer yer information, I would be happy ta take -- or stickin' a mask on me'll change how other see me? Will change what I am? Ya think if I dressed an' acted like a 9-ta-5 businessman, had a job an' bought property an' paid taxes an' attended a book club, that you'd be any less inclined to knock my block off an' set the rest'a me on fire? Shoot, you'd prob'bly be more inclined ta do so, seein' me as 'intrudin' onyer world' and not 'stayin' where my kind oughta stay.'"

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"Actually, you're wrong," Erin replied. "If I don't look at you, you sound like a human and I can remember that you're not like the ones I know. That you can still think and have feelings and, you know, not try to rip apart everybody you come across. But when I look at you and you're all falling apart and tatty and look like you've been mindlessly shambling around for a year, all my instincts tell me to take you apart before you kill someone. You wait here, I'll be back in a couple minutes." Before he could say anything, she rose to her feet and executed a prodigious standing leap, disappearing into the night sky.

It was closer to ten minutes before she came back, thudding down into the same spot she'd left with a quiet thump. She had a couple of packages in her arms as she looked around to see whether the zombie had waited.

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The Revoltin' Revenant had indeed waited, though not idly. When Erin got back, she saw him in the middle of a conversation with... well, nothing, it appeared.

"Well, d'ya got any idea where ta start lookin'?"

[bg=#000000]If I knew that, would I still be here?![/bg]

"Whoa, WHOA!" he said, holding his hands up defensively, "okay, ya got a fair point there, but gettin' riled up ain't gonna fix anythin'. Alright, so I'll talk to yer Ma-"

[bg=#000000]She is not my mother![/bg]

"Okay, okay, get in touch with... with tha woman what raised ya, see if she can contact tha orphanage. But I gotta warn ya, kid, ya might not like whatcha-"

He turned just enough to face Erin.

"Oh, ya came back," he said to Wander. "Thought you'd had enough'a me fer tha night."

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Erin stepped forward far enough to drop the packages onto a tombstone halfway between herself and the zombie. "I guessed on the sizes," she told him. "It's stretchy material anyway. There's boots in the top package and a mask, hood and gloves in the second one. Uniform's on the bottom." Stepping back to the safety of her wrought iron bench, she turned away to let the zombie put the clothes on. If he jumped on her, she might end up bitten, but she was sure she could take him out if needs be.

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